Towns turn to public patio dining areas to help restaurants maintain social distancing standards
There’s a new scene taking shape in Glenwood Springs’ 700 block under the Grand Avenue Bridge since restaurants were allowed to reopen at limited capacity with the lifting of some coronavirus restrictions.
Three eating and drinking establishments in particular — Smoke Modern BBQ, Casey Brewing’s tap house and The Grind — have taken full advantage of the city’s new flex rules when it comes to outdoor dining areas.
Smoke founding owner Jamie Theriot hopes it might even make a lasting impression once the pandemic passes.
“With our specific location, it’s been a huge improvement to the general attitude of the whole plaza area,” Theriot said Wednesday as he was busy mixing drinks for early evening customers. “It’s really become a significant part of the whole scene down here.”
To help accommodate social distancing requirements and enhance capacity limits for local restaurants, the city of Glenwood Springs is waiving fees for the use of adjacent public plaza and sidewalk areas for patio seating. The deal even extends to any retail shops that want to make use of sidewalk areas for outside shopping space.
“We’re trying to be as creative as we can to try to help businesses as much as possible to come out of this,” Glenwood Springs Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Jenn Ooton said.
Outdoor dining permit fees were waived three years ago to help during the impacts of the Grand Avenue Bridge construction, and never were formally reinstated, she said.
“City Council gave us permission to continue to lease those spaces at no cost, and to speed up the process for the temporary modification of premises liquor license that is required,” Ooton said.
For restaurants and stores that front street parking areas, the city is also allowing the use of “parklet” spaces (normally used for vehicle parking) to set up mobile decks, similar to what Carbondale and now Rifle have been doing.
It’s just another way to expand outdoor capacity for businesses that want to use that option to help spread people out, Ooton said.
Without the much larger outdoor seating area, Theriot said it would be difficult to make a go of it at 50% of his usual indoor dining capacity.
“We essentially were able to double our patio area and keep the same number of seats as we had before,” he said. “When the weather is good, it’s actually smoother and easier to serve people outdoors with the restrictions than indoors.”
“My hope is that when the powers that be see how it all lays out, they’ll view it as an amenity to the area that we can keep going forward,” Theriot said.
City Council also discussed the potential of closing Seventh Street to vehicle traffic to allow for expanded outdoor dining space along that stretch. However, the consensus among restaurant owners there was that they didn’t want to inhibit drive-up capability for the high percentage of customers placing take-out orders, Ooton said.
Other area towns are making the move to expand restaurants and shops into the outdoors, as well.
In Carbondale, town trustees last week approved a plan to close the 300 block of Main Street to one-way traffic, and to all but pedestrians and outdoor seating on Friday and Saturday nights, in order to accommodate expanded outdoor seating for the many restaurants that are located in that block.
A recent survey of downtown business owners, including restaurants, was supportive of the idea.
The town is purchasing barricades and other necessary infrastructure to help accommodate the planned street closure.
Once that piece is in place, Carbondale plans to close the one-block stretch of Main from 5-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to vehicles, and to one-way eastbound traffic only at other times. That will allow the expansion of dining areas 15 feet into the street right of way. There will be no charge to the businesses.
If it catches on, the town could add a day or two to the full street-closure plan, Town Manager Jay Harrington said.
The town also agreed to be flexible if any restaurants located in private commercial plazas want to set up expanded outdoor dining space in parking areas, as long as they have permission from their landlords and work with other tenants.
The city of Rifle is also allowing expanded restaurant seating on Third Street and other places where restaurants are located adjacent to city streets and sidewalks.
A recent survey asked Rifle businesses what they were willing to do for a temporary setup this summer, and the city devised a plan to add parklets in front of restaurants along public streets.
Rifle city planner Nathan Lindquist said it came out pretty close to what the plan would be once the reconstruction of Third Street takes place next spring.
“We were able to closely follow the plan we will have, but this year we have to do it on a temporary basis and build these parklets,” Lindquist said.
Through grants, the city plans to construct five parklets at a cost of $20,000, leasing them to the businesses, with each individual restaurant responsible for keeping the area clean and monitoring it.
Each parklet will take up three parking spots in front of the restaurants, with space for six four-top tables. No alcohol will be allowed on the sidewalk, but restaurants with liquor licenses can serve in the parklets.
Whether the weather
The use of outdoor areas for dining does mean that restaurants need to have a contingency plan for inclement weather.
“It did rain Saturday night, and it totally changed the dynamic of our service and it was harder to keep a good flow,” Smoke’s Theriot said. “When that happens, we simply go to 50% capacity indoors. Right now, we’re lucky that the weather is pretty agreeable.”
Under the public health restrictions, tables are limited to parties of six or fewer people, and reservations are encouraged, he said.
“People have been super understanding of things, even to the extent of sometimes being out of things or service being a bit slower,” Theriot said. “But we’ve also seen a level of generosity that’s not always present.
“People understand what we’ve gone through, and overall it’s been an encouraging start,” he said.
Glenwood Springs outdoor seating policy and application information can be found at cogs.us/outdoordining.
Rifle Citizen Telegram Editor Kyle Mills contributed to this report.
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